Investigation, Prosecution, Remedy: Accountability For Human Rights Violations In The War On Terror


Investigation, Prosecution, Remedy: Accountability For Human Rights Violations In The War On Terror

The USA is required by international law to respect and ensure human rights, to thoroughly investigate every violation of those rights, and to bring perpetrators to justice, no matter their level of office or former level of office. Victims of human rights violations have the right under international law to effective access to remedy and reparation. In addition, there is a collective and individual right to the truth about violations. The United Nations, among others, has formally recognised "the importance of respecting and ensuring the right to the truth so as to contribute to ending impunity and to promote and protect human rights", referring in part to "the right of victims of gross violations of human rights and serious violations of international humanitarian law, and their families and society as a whole, to know the truth regarding such violations, to the fullest extent practicable, in particular, the identity of the perpetrators, the causes and facts of such violations, and the circumstances under which they occurred".4


If the USA is to demonstrate that it is genuinely committed to human rights and the rule of law, Amnesty International considers that the new administration and Congress must ensure that truth and accountability are no longer buried under laws or policies that exploit or facilitate secrecy or impunity. Without "observance of the right to know and, by implication, the right to the truth, the right to justice and the right to reparation... there can be no effective remedy against the pernicious effects of impunity".5 As the independent non-governmental International Center for Transitional Justice has said, a holistic approach is necessary following a period of widespread human rights violations:


"Without any truth-telling or reparation efforts, for example, punishing a small number of perpetrators can be viewed as a form of political revenge. Truth-telling, in isolation from efforts to punish abusers and to make institutional reforms, can be viewed as nothing more than words. Reparations that are not linked to prosecutions or truth-telling may be perceived as 'blood money' -- an attempt to buy the silence or acquiescence of victims. Similarly, reforming institutions without any attempt to satisfy victims' legitimate expectations of justice, truth and reparation, is not only ineffective from the standpoint of accountability, but unlikely to succeed in its own terms."6

This document outlines the importance of immediately initiating effective independent criminal investigations, including into crimes under international law such as torture and enforced disappearance committed by individuals acting for or on behalf of the USA; removing potential obstacles in existing US law to successful investigation and prosecution of all such cases; and ultimately bringing perpetrators to justice. Any prosecutions must be conducted in independent and impartial courts applying international fair trial standards, without recourse to the death penalty.